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Preprimary, Elementary, and Secondary Education

Characteristics of Public School Teachers Who Completed Alternative Route to Certification Programs

(Last Updated: May 2018)

Approximately 18 percent of public school teachers in 2015–16 had entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program. Compared to those who entered through a traditional route, a higher percentage of alternative route teachers were Black (13 vs. 5 percent), Hispanic (15 vs. 8 percent), of Two or more races (2 vs. 1 percent), and male (32 vs. 22 percent).

Of the 3.8 million public school teachers working in school year 2015–16, approximately 676,000 (18 percent) had entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program.1 While the traditional route to certification typically requires the completion of a postsecondary degree in education, many alternative route programs are designed for individuals who have already completed a degree in a different field without teacher education courses.2 These alternative pathways into the teaching profession may have important implications for the supply of teachers in the labor market, especially in the context of the declining number of bachelor’s and master’s degrees awarded in education3 and persistent teacher shortages in certain subjects and categories of schools.4

The National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS) from the National Center for Education Statistics provides new insights about alternative route teachers in public elementary and secondary schools. This spotlight indicator uses NTPS data to examine the characteristics of teachers who entered teaching through alternative route to certification programs and compares them to those who entered through traditional routes. The indicator also describes the percentage of teachers in various academic subjects and categories of schools who entered teaching through an alternative route.

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Figure 1. Percentage distribution of public elementary and secondary school teachers, by route to certification and race/ethnicity: 2015–16
Figure 1. Percentage distribution of public elementary and secondary school teachers, by route to certification and race/ethnicity: 2015–16

NOTE: Teachers were asked whether they entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program, which is a program that was designed to expedite the transition of nonteachers to a teaching career (for example, a state, district, or university alternative route to certification program). Data are based on a head count of full-time and part-time teachers rather than on the number of full-time-equivalent teachers. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. Data for American Indian/Alaska Native teachers who entered teaching through a traditional route and Pacific Islander teachers who entered teaching through traditional and alternative routes round to zero and are not displayed.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), “Public School Teacher Data File,” 2015–16. See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 209.24.

Figure 2. Percentage distribution of public elementary and secondary school teachers, by route to certification and sex: 2015–16
Figure 2. Percentage distribution of public elementary and secondary school teachers, by route to certification and sex: 2015–16

NOTE: Teachers were asked whether they entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program, which is a program that was designed to expedite the transition of nonteachers to a teaching career (for example, a state, district, or university alternative route to certification program). Data are based on a head count of full-time and part-time teachers rather than on the number of full-time-equivalent teachers.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), “Public School Teacher Data File,” 2015–16. See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 209.24.

Figure 3. Percentage distribution of public elementary and secondary school teachers, by route to certification and main activity the year before teaching: 2015–16
Figure 3. Percentage distribution of public elementary and secondary school teachers, by route to certification and main activity the year before teaching: 2015–16

1 Other includes caring for other family members, military service, unemployed and seeking work, and retired from another job.

NOTE: Includes only those teachers whose first year of teaching was between 2011–12 and 2015–16. Teachers were asked whether they entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program, which is a program that was designed to expedite the transition of nonteachers to a teaching career (for example, a state, district, or university alternative route to certification program). Data are based on a head count of full-time and part-time teachers rather than on the number of full-time-equivalent teachers.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), “Public School Teacher Data File,” 2015–16. See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 209.24.

Figure 4. Percentage of public elementary and secondary school teachers who had entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program, by main teaching assignment: 2015–16
Figure 4. Percentage of public elementary and secondary school teachers who had entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program, by main teaching assignment: 2015–16

NOTE: Teachers were asked whether they entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program, which is a program that was designed to expedite the transition of nonteachers to a teaching career (for example, a state, district, or university alternative route to certification program). Data are based on a head count of full-time and part-time teachers rather than on the number of full-time-equivalent teachers.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), “Public School Teacher Data File,” 2015–16. See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 209.24.

Figure 5. Percentage of public elementary and secondary school teachers who had entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program, by school classification and level: 2015–16
Figure 5. Percentage of public elementary and secondary school teachers who had entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program, by school classification and level: 2015–16

NOTE: Teachers were asked whether they entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program, which is a program that was designed to expedite the transition of nonteachers to a teaching career (for example, a state, district, or university alternative route to certification program). Data are based on a head count of full-time and part-time teachers rather than on the number of full-time-equivalent teachers.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), “Public School Teacher Data File,” 2015–16. See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 209.24.

Figure 6. Percentage of public elementary and secondary school teachers who had entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program, by percentage of racial/ethnic minority students in school: 2015–16
Figure 6. Percentage of public elementary and secondary school teachers who had entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program, by percentage of racial/ethnic minority students in school: 2015–16

NOTE: Excludes the 7 percent of teachers for whom the percentage of racial/ethnic minority enrollment in the school was not available. Minority enrollment is the combined enrollment of students who are Black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native, and of Two or more races. Teachers were asked whether they entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program, which is a program that was designed to expedite the transition of nonteachers to a teaching career (for example, a state, district, or university alternative route to certification program). Data are based on a head count of full-time and part-time teachers rather than on the number of full-time-equivalent teachers.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), “Public School Teacher Data File,” 2015–16. See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 209.24.

Figure 7. Percentage of public elementary and secondary school teachers who had entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program, by percentage of students in school who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch: 2015–16
Figure 7. Percentage of public elementary and secondary school teachers who had entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program, by percentage of students in school who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch: 2015–16

NOTE: For more information on free or reduced-price lunch eligibility and its relationship to poverty, see the Forum Guide to Alternative Measures of Socioeconomic Status in Education Data Systems. Teachers were asked whether they entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program, which is a program that was designed to expedite the transition of nonteachers to a teaching career (for example, a state, district, or university alternative route to certification program). Data are based on a head count of full-time and part-time teachers rather than on the number of full-time-equivalent teachers.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), “Public School Teacher Data File,” 2015–16. See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 209.24.


1 Data are based on a head count of full-time and part-time teachers rather than on the number of full-time-equivalent teachers. All states except Alaska offered alternative route to certification programs in 2015. Program providers varied widely from state to state, including school districts, colleges and universities, and nonprofit and for-profit organizations. For more information, see National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). State Policy Yearbook Database: 2015. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved February 13, 2018, from https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/home.

2 Woods, J.R. (2016). Mitigating Teacher Shortages: Alternative Teacher Certification (Teacher Shortage Series Policy Brief). Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States. Retrieved February 13, 2018, from https://www.ecs.org/mitigating-teacher-shortages-alternative-teacher-certification/.

3 For more information on the number of degrees awarded in the field of education, see indicators Undergraduate Degree Fields and Graduate Degree Fields.

4 Aragon, S. (2016). Teacher Shortages: What We Know (Teacher Shortage Series Policy Brief). Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States. Retrieved February 13, 2018, https://www.ecs.org/teacher-shortages/.

5 For more information on eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch and its relationship to poverty, see the Forum Guide to Alternative Measures of Socioeconomic Status in Education Data Systems.

Supplemental Information

Table 209.24 (Digest 2017): Number and percentage distribution of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools, by whether they entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program and selected teacher and school characteristics: 2015-16
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